Jail or Disney World

Forrest Hylton

On 28 December, Luis Fernando ‘el Macho’ Camacho, the governor of Bolivia’s wealthy lowland department of Santa Cruz, was arrested and flown to La Paz, where a judge remanded him in custody. He will spend the next four months in Chonchocoro prison, pending trial for his part in the October 2019 coup, which saw Jeanine Áñez installed as president even though Evo Morales had won the election. Camacho declared himself proud to have taken part in ‘the greatest struggle in history’. The Catholic Church called his arrest a ‘kidnapping’ and claimed that no coup had taken place in 2019.

On 30 December, Jair Bolsonaro boarded the Brazilian presidential plane for the last time, on his way to Orlando, Florida. He cried on live television as he apologised to his supporters who had rallied outside army barracks throughout Brazil to beg for military intervention to overturn the election results that returned Lula to the presidency on 30 October. One of Bolsonaro’s followers, George Washington Sousa, is under arrest for allegedly plotting to blow up the airport in Brasília to delay Lula’s inauguration.

Brazilian support was vital to the success of Bolivia’s (short-lived) coup. Camacho met with Bolsonaro’s foreign minister, Ernesto Araújo, before the overthrow of Morales, and narrowly missed meeting with Bolsonaro. When Añez was jailed, Bolsonaro claimed on live TV that he had met with her, though she immediately denied it. He spoke of the judicial persecution to which she had been subject, and expressed his fears that the same thing could happen to him once his time in office was up. He fell silent after losing to Lula, but must have been worrying about going to jail. (His sons applied to Giorgia Meloni’s Italy for citizenship, to no avail.)

For once, Bolsonaro’s timing seems to have been opportune, since the US does not recognise Brazilian – or indeed any other – jurisdiction, and is unlikely to extradite him. There’s already quite a club of would-be dictators in Florida, including the former Bolivian strongman Carlos Sánchez Berzaín. The far-right in Brazil is now leaderless and rudderless. Flávio Dino, Lula’s new justice minister, has promised tighter gun-control laws and said there is no place in Brazil for ‘political terrorism’. Given the right’s strong performance in the congressional elections, this is a stunning reversal.

Camacho’s arrest in Bolivia is no less remarkable, given the deep divisions in Morales’s Movimiento al Socialismo, which returned to power in October 2020. The president, Luis Arce, is trying to govern without being overshadowed by Morales, who leads a faction based in the coca growers’ union in the Chapare lowlands, and plans to run again. The vice-president, David Choquehuanca, meanwhile has widespread personal support in the densely populated Aymara departments on the western Altiplano, which are electorally decisive for the MAS.

With the city of Santa Cruz on fire, the MAS will need unity if it is to beat back the secessionist violence and fascist boots on the ground. The police have so far shown no signs of splitting or defecting as they confront the demonstrators. Efforts to overthrow Morales in 2008 erupted in an orgy of racist violence against MAS supporters in Beni. In response, MAS brought some of its lowland opponents into its governing coalition; a form of insurance that lasted until the coup of 2019, when the dominant economic interests in Santa Cruz decided to overthrow the political order in La Paz.

Right-wing secessionists in the eastern lowlands, crying dictatorship, are demanding Camacho’s immediate release. Their goal, presumably, is to make the country ungovernable. Can they achieve it? They have set up road blocks, though only half appear to be working. A civil servant who went to investigate the damage caused by arson to the tax administration building in Santa Cruz was kidnapped, and only released after his money, laptop, passwords, rings and shoes and been stolen. This was probably the work of the fascist youth group Unión Juvenil Cruceña.

Nine people are wanted by police for setting the departmental attorney general’s office and fifty cars on fire in Santa Cruz on 28 December (five are wanted for similar actions in Cochabamba), and for refusing to allow emergency services in.

The arson and confrontations with police continued into New Year’s Day. The departmental government building was set on fire, as was the Banco de la Unión near the Cristo Redentor, a few blocks from police headquarters. Students from the Gabriel Moreno Autonomous University, as well as members of the Departmental Assembly, led by Zvonko Matkovic, took to the streets alongside Rómulo Calvo, the leader of the Santa Cruz Civic Committee; the vice-governor, Mario Aguilera; and members of Camacho’s family. Police fired tear gas on the crowd. Paola Aguirre, an assemblywoman, was hit on the head by a gas canister.

Thirty-two people have been arrested and 209 injured, according to Calvo. Warning that Bolivia could become another Venezuela, he contends that the current government is run by a ‘horde of thieves’, while Camacho has promised to lead Santa Cruz to total autonomy from La Paz. Without the backing of Brazil or the US, however, the chances of another right-wing coup succeeding in Bolivia are slim to none. All the same, the left – in Bolivia, Brazil and elsewhere – would be unwise to let its guard down. The far-right leaders who escape jail may yet regroup at Disney World.


  • 8 January 2023 at 7:03pm
    j. w. says:
    "For once, Bolsonaro’s timing seems to have been opportune, since the US does not recognise Brazilian – or indeed any other – jurisdiction, and is unlikely to extradite him. "
    Would you please clarify this? In other publications, I've seen it asserted that extradition agreements with Brazil do in fact exist.

  • 11 January 2023 at 8:57am
    nlowhim says:
    Scary happenings. Worldwide it seems that the easy to grab violence of the right is being exercised. Here in the US, in Washington state specifically, we had some right wing crazies attack electric substations. The counter revolutionary reactions to BLM (to include what the police did and haven’t done since) went and still goes unchecked and unpunished, whatever the election results. And I’m afraid it’s only going to get worse.